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A Sign Language Town

The idea of a state or town for the deaf, in the United States, began around 1857.  In letters composed to The American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, various correspondences by the journal’s readers were published and discussed.  The community would consist purely of those who were deaf either from birth or those who became that way later in their lives.  There are a few ideas of interest from the letters published in the Annals, with people being both for and against the idea.  Proposed was a town where the “Deaf and Mute” or “Deaf and Dumb” could live together.  One of the things I find remarkable is how nearly all of the deaf people that wrote-in accepted the label of dumb and considered their own existence a burden on society.

There wasn’t great practicality in creating a project like this in mid-1800.  The first problem would be to obtain the land for the town.  It is unconstitutional for the government to give land to any one group of people, so the money for the properties would have to come from deaf people or supporters of deaf people.  Each person also had varying ideas of how large the area needed to be in order to give adequate space for people from all over the world to join.  The deaf people also desired political control over the town or state so that they could control their destiny and put into place rules to ensure the group’s survival.

The benefits of a community for the deaf were numerous.  At that time, most deaf people were scattered throughout the United States.  They lived in communities of hearing.  A great number of deaf people felt both socially and intellectually isolated.  Hearing people didn’t communicate in the same way with deaf people as they did with other hearing people.  Information and news that usually traveled by word of mouth between the hearing rarely made its way to the deaf.

A major concern was the sale and inheritance of that property.  Could the land, that was bought or given to a deaf person, later be sold to a hearing person?  And as most deaf parents produce hearing children, who would inherit that land?  If the hearing were allowed to move into the community it would defeat the idea of a deaf community.  The complexity of the situation began to mount as the details were explored.  Some came up with practical answers to these questions.  Why not ship out hearing children to plots of land outside of the town?  Force hearing children to marry a deaf partner.  Disallow, through law, the sale of land parcels to the hearing.

While deaf people everywhere offered to step forward with money to fund the project, many of the barriers were too immense to overcome.  Eventually, the idea of a town for the deaf died.

In 2003, The Laurent Company resurrected the idea of this town – but this time it isn’t a town for the deaf.  It’s a town for speakers of Sign language.  The company is in the process of building this town in South Dakota.  They have invited everyone who is deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing.  In over 1000 years, the idea of the town has changed quite drastically.  By creating this community based on Sign language, instead of the inability to hear, The Laurent Co. has solved most of the problems that existed in earlier plans.  The town will be constructed to encourage Sign language.  Streets will be narrow to prevent cars from speeding through the streets.  Additional flashing lights will be added to the appropriate places to indicate warning or danger.  Schools will be constructed to educate the deaf and hearing.

Unlike before, the town has a real chance.  If all goes as planned, The Laurent Co. will finish the last phase in 16 to 20 years.

October 18th, 2005 at 11:21 PM | Feedback

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Montréal, QC, Canada
September 9th, 2006

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